Association of American Geographers AAG - My Community, My Earth
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Digital Citizenship

Why is it important?

The MyCOE program encourages youth to address globally important issues of sustainable development in their own communities. Through MyCOE, young people are also encouraged to share information about themselves and where they live with others all around the world, using interactive Internet-based technologies (e.g., email, the world wide web, social media, text messaging, video chats) and geospatial technologies (e.g., geographic information systems (GIS) and global position systems (GPS)). These technologies provide many exciting opportunities to connect global issues to local places. For example, young people can exchange their own experiences (stories, ideas, and maps) around key issues like food security, climate change, green economy, biodiversity, and other sustainable development topics with other young people they've met through online communities or the "digital world." Such exchanges can help us all understand how sustainable development challenges are shared across distant places. In the digital world, time zones and geographic boundaries matter less than in the real world. This kind of interaction, through access to the internet, creates responsibilities for "digital citizenship." Just like we are citizens of our village, town, city, state, or country, we also become global citizens of virtual communities created through the Internet.

What does it mean to be a good digital citizen?

Digital citizenship requires ethical behavior. Just like there are expectations of honest, thoughtful, and respectful behavior at home, in school, and in your community, there are expectations of honest, thoughtful, and respectful behavior online.

Here's some comparative vocabulary about ethics:

  • Ethics: A set of principles and morals governing people’s behavior, including honesty and respect toward others.
  • Online Ethics: A set of principles and morals governing people’s behavior as it relates to the Internet and digital devices
  • Digital Citizenship: A safe, responsible, and ethical approach to functioning in the digital world

(Adapted from Common Sense Media).


How do Good Digital Citizens act?

Ethics may vary a bit by country or region, but here are some general and important guidelines for good digital citizenship and for activities under the MyCOE Program:

General Guidelines:

  • Think about the ethical standards of behavior you follow in real-life, and apply those same standards to your behavior online.
  •  Entering the digital world is in some ways like encountering a new culture. You may make some mistakes. In most cases, you won't be able to see the other people with whom you're communicating. Facial expressions, gestures, and tone of voice that are important in face-to-face communication to convey meaning are absent in Internet communication. You might write an email or post a message that offends people without meaning to. Be confident in what you write, but try not to hurt other's feelings.
  • Be positive when you exchange ideas and information through the Internet. If you feel that you need to criticize someone, try to balance constructive criticism with complimentary feedback. Be pleasant and polite, and avoid using offensive language.  No bullying, hate speech, or abuse of any kind should be tolerated and violations should be reported.  
  • Emails, posting to social media pages, text messages (any information shared through mobile phones and the internet) are all public and can move very quickly across the digital world. Information that you may think is private can be shared and read by people whom you don't even know! Be careful and avoid sharing confidential information (anything that you wouldn't want to see published in your local newspaper).
  • Avoid using  all capital letters (CAPS) when you write email or post messages. Messages in CAPS can often be interpreted as anger, or yelling.
  • Think carefully about how you present yourself online.
    •  Spelling and grammar matter when you're communicating online. Sloppy writing can be interpreted as being disrespectful. Remember, people are making assessments of you without the benefit of interacting with you face-to-face. People will understand mistakes if you're not writing in your first language, but try your best.
    • Think about all your different internet communication options and what they convey about you as a person. Perhaps you've completed a profile where you've provided information about yourself (e.g., where you go to school, or your favorite color or movie) or post regular messages to a social media site (like Twitter) or have even uploaded a photo or other image (avatar) of yourself. Consider the image of yourself that you are sharing with the digital world.
  • Respect other people's work. If you do want to incorporate someone 's ideas into your work, it's ok to do this in your own words and acknowledge them as your source. Don't simply copy and re-send  or post information from the internet and pretend it's your own work.

Activities under the MyCOE Program:

  •  MyCOE encourages youth all over the world to exchange information about sustainable development issues. This means that you will have the opportunity to create maps of your local community, and also contribute information to maps that you share with others online. When you share information on a single map online, it's great to look at what others are posting – it's a cool way to collaborate and learn from others. When working on a shared map, it's very important to only add or change information about yourself and your place and always be respectful of the information posted by others.
  • You may see a map that someone else has created, perhaps showing were food can be purchased within a certain distance of their home. If you're interested in their map, and would like to learn how they made it, feel free to ask them! MyCOE's activities around sustainable development include encouraging participants to learn from each other.
  • Using geospatial technologies, like GIS and online mapping, means that you can keep track of data about people and places. Sometimes, information about people and places might be private or sensitive and shouldn't be shared publicly on a map. For example, there may be cultural sites that are important or sacred to your local community and carefully protected. Sharing their locations on a map could bring harm to these sites.
  • Often, data that are gathered and mapped are used to make policy decisions. With MyCOE, participants are encouraged to create maps and use them to help "take action." It's important to try very hard to use accurate data and to keep track of where the data on your map came from (e.g., if you're using a maps that you found online, where did it come from? If you used your cell phone's GPS to plot locations in your community, remember to include this with information about your map.) Maps that have errors, missing data, or use unknown sources may create problems when it's time to make a decision or take action.

Congratulations! You’re a digital citizen!

Share your knowledge! The Internet was originally built for scientists to share information. Now, anyone (not just scientists) can share information that helps others. When people ask questions and others offer answers, many benefit and learn from these exchanges. Be open to sharing what you know. It can be lots of fun, and ultimately can help our world!


Common Sense Media offers a curriculum on Digital Literacy and Citizenship that aligns with several standards, including the International Society of Technology Education (ISTE)

Netiquette (home page for the book Netiquette, by Virginia Shea, now published online)

Online Etiquette (a web page of Empire State College, State University of New York) 

Ethics Education for Current & Aspiring Geospatial Professionals (Open Educational Resources for Practical Ethics Education)


Please report any abuses or concerns about inappropriate online behavior to  Users of MyCOE webpages for the purpose of classroom exchanges, commentary, and sharing are encouraged to follow proper guidelines for digital citizenship.